President’s Column – August 2001

Title: Where are geology majors going to come from?

Author: Susan Landon

Publication: The Outcrop, August 2001, p. 3-4

The membership of RMAG has grown this year and, although I would like to be able to take credit, we know that this accelerated growth is directly related to the health of the petroleum industry. Specifically, interest in natural gas in the Rocky Mountain region has had a major impact on RMAG membership and publication sales. Demographics within the RMAG are also changing, which leads me to consider the future of our profession.

Statistics regarding the number of geology students and employment are collected, maintained, and published by the American Geological Institute and AAPG. Their numbers reflect the same trends that our current membership growth documents. Our profession, geology, continues to be driven by market forces. What impact do these market-driven cycles have on student enrollment? Why do we care about students?

Where are new geoscientists, particularly in the petroleum industry, going to come from? There are three areas to examine: attracting the best high school students to the geological sciences, providing an appropriate geological education, and convincing students that the petroleum industry offers a viable career path.

How do we attract the best students to geology? How do we increase our undergraduate enrollment? Although the information collected by AGI and AAPG documents the numbers of students receiving degrees in geology and the employment sector that they join, an understanding of how the student “discovers” geology is not captured. Understanding how students chose a major in geology may provide insight into recruiting good students into these programs. Students are different these days. Industries like petroleum and mining are shunned by students as being unreliable and “old economy.” How do we remind the world that the high tech industry is still based on energy (fossil fuels) and minerals (the stuff those machines are made of)?

So how many of you are frowning and thinking “There is no future in geology!” or “What about all the unemployed geologists?” In my opinion, we should dramatically increase the number of undergraduate majors in geology. I propose that an undergraduate degree in geology is better preparation for life than a degree in English or polysci, or… I think of my brother-in-law who has a degree in biology. It provided him with a sound education that is the basis for his career in insurance and he has a better appreciation for the world around him. He’s a pretty good bass fisherman, too. There are many professionals that, with a degree in geology, went on to careers in law, medicine, finance, etc. The select few, with an undergraduate degree in geology, can seek further education to prepare them for petroleum, mining, engineering, academia, etc. With a basic background in geology, a person is better prepared for problem-solving, critical thinking, and educated voting.

So why have I focused on student enrollments? The major demographic variable that dominates our industry is age. Our population is strongly skewed toward retirement age and, based on industry statistics, more than half of geoscientists in the petroleum industry will retire in the next ten years or so. Check the age distribution of the RMAG membership (details in an upcoming issue). How many students will be needed in the petroleum industry as this graying population retires? How many students are enough to supply the total demand for geoscientists?